Last year, we wrote a piece in the midst of the Helena-West Helena water crisis (still ongoing, by the way) asking what the state government does for folks. There’s two parts to that question: what is it supposed to do, and what does it actually choose to do? 

With the news that the legislature will almost certainly convene in a special session to clean up the mess the House made by failing to pass appropriations for the Game and Fish Commission and likely cut taxes some more, we thought it would be a good time to look back on the last year and again ask: “What is state government doing for Arkansans?” 

What should the state be doing for us?

Folks like to say that we live in a democracy. This, theoretically, means that we the people have say over how the government uses our tax dollars. Indeed, Arkansas’s motto famously expresses this idea. Regnat Populus, the People Rule. We like the implicit threat expressed in the motto: if the people are unhappy, then they get to exercise their power to rule (go sign the petition to get the Arkansas Abortion Amendment on the ballot!) 

Put otherwise, we should be able to say what the state does for us. Things like infrastructure, healthcare, education, environmental protections, and caring for our most vulnerable neighbors consistently rank highly among voters’ priorities

Wouldn’t it make sense that the state should be prioritizing projects that its citizens actually care about? 

It may be shocking to our readers to hear that that’s not the case! 

What the state is actually doing to us

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that the state’s predicted surplus for fiscal year ‘24 jumped from about $250 million to over $700 million. On the surface, this seems like good news. But the Arkansas Times pointed out that this massive bump in the surplus is largely due to a huge slowdown in state spending. 

Put otherwise, the state thinks it’s going to have extra money because it’s not spending the money it has

State spending holding steady in the face of inflation is unequivocally bad. Arkansans are desperate for healthcare, mental healthcare, and better infrastructure, among many other things. Remember that Helena-West Helena is still having water problems, and the state gave them a paltry $100,000 and seems likely to leave it up to the federal government to fund the city’s water overhaul projects. 

If there’s money to be spent to help Arkansans, you can bet that the state won’t spend that money.  

Instead, the state is pushing funding toward funding the unfolding LEARNS disaster, desperate to prop up Sanders’ failed signature policy. Almost all of the paltry 1.76% budget increase will fund the voucher scam. 

The state’s also picked up another lawsuit regarding the driver license debacle.  

For those of you keeping track of the high-profile lawsuits currently cycling through the courts or recently concluded, we’ve got: 

  • The driver license change (hurts trans and nonbinary folks) 
  • The book ban lawsuit (denies freedom of speech)
  • The LEARNS indoctrination lawsuit (hurts students and teachers) 
  • The voting rights lawsuit (hurts poor voters and voters of color; recently concluded in the Eighth Circuit, but may be heard at the Supreme Court)
  • The lawsuit over healthcare for trans teens (hurts trans teens and their families)
  • The TikTok lawsuit (another denial of freedom of speech) 
  • The lawsuit over the law requiring parental consent for minors on social media (free speech and parental rights issue)

And there’s plenty more. Just look at that list, Arkansas. That’s where your tax dollars are going. 

They could be going to projects that manifestly make your life – yes, you! Wherever in the state you might be – better, but no. 

We deserve better.